Monday 21 February 2011


Andre Kertesz: Butcher at Les Halles, 1927
 Andre Kertesz, eds Michel Frizot / Annie-Laure Wanaverbecq, Editions Hazan/Jeu de Paume, 2010

Irving Penn: Boucher, Paris, 1950
Irving Penn Small Trades, eds Virgina A. Heckert / Anne Lacoste, Getty Publications, 2009

Irving Penn: Meat Carrier and Boner (A), London, 1950
Irving Penn Small Trades, eds Virgina A. Heckert / Anne Lacoste, Getty Publications, 2009

Richard Avedon: Blue Cloud Wright, slaughterhouse worker, Omaha Nebraska, 8/10/79
In the American West, Richard Avedon, Harry N. Abrams, 1985

Andres Serrano: Josef Hlavinka, Butcher, 2003
America and Other Work, Andres Serrano, Taschen, 2004

Charles Freger: Boucher, Bleus de travail, 2002-2003
Image Makers, Image Takers, ed Anne-Celine Jaeger, Thames & Hudson, 2007

Our response to the food we eat is not only mediated by images of the food itself but also by those involved in the modes and means of production, the players who deliver from farm to fork. The images included here give an overview of the way artists have portrayed workers in the meat industry and reveal a visceral fascination.

Kertesz presents an almost contradictory image, with his butcher depicted as a found object, the worker in situ - in his natural surroundings, a documentary typology, the "straight up" giving the viewer the sense of an honest portrayal, that any mediation of the artist is limited but the pose and stance of the butcher indicate a strong, directorial hand.

Penn and Avedon, however are locked into their primary metier as fashion photographers. Their intent may be in documenting real people but their stylistic quality is imbued with a fashion sensibility. By relocating their subjects away from their own environment, by stripping them of their context and replacing them in the artifice of the studio set up, these butchers, bone men, slaughterhouse workers become something greater than the visual representation of the work they do.

Penn utilises the same visual props, lighting, backdrop, camera, for these Small Trades as he does for his celebrity or fashion portraits - highly stylised - posed and preened. But he is keen to differentiate and reaffirm national stereotypes, the French boucher as opposed to the English meat carrier - the flamboyantly louche and stylishly tied apron and neckerchief in contrast to the conservative, stark functionality of the apron and tie.

Avedon raises the intensity further. By naming his subject, Blue Cloud Wright, he signals further links - a descendant of the true American West, authenticity and otherness. This blood soaked man with his hands hanging by his sides - is he ready to draw his tools in defense or are his empty palms a sign of supplication? The intensity of the mediation lifts the subject matter beyond representation creating the monumental, the unforgettable.

Serrano, although dealing in more typologies lends an air of kitsch through his use of highly saturated colours. The white coat with daubings of blood and the far off gaze, creates degrees of separation that lead the viewer to question the veracity of the real identity of this man - are we even meant to believe he is a butcher?

Freger has a hybridity of style which feels the least interventionist - the neutral background, the easy relaxed expression lend an air of authenticity to his subject.

With special thanks to Edward Barber - "Neutral Territory" talk at The National Portrait Galley, Symposium: Irving Penn Portraits.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Pea and ham soup - simplicity personified


This must be one the cheapest, easiest, most wholesome,  delicious, slow food soups.
The smoked hock is courtesy of my friends at the Ginger Pig - no need to soak as the ham is what flavours the soup.

Simply chop into chunky pieces 3 leeks, 3 sticks of celery, and 3 yellow heritage carrots - these tend to be slightly harder than regular carrots and hold their own in the soup better. Sweat the veg for a few minutes in a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a big heavy based saucepan, add 3 small bay leaves. Rinse a 500g packet of split peas in a colander under running water, add to the veg stir well, pop in the hock and cover with cold water.

Bring to the boil and then turn heat down and leave to simmer for a couple of hours. The peas will have turned to a lovely mealy mush, leave to cool for 24 hours. This is where the magical alchemy of food does its trick. The hock as you can see has a lovely layer of fat as well as succulent meat, leaving it to cool and settle with the peas, turns a watery soup into a gelatinous mass.

When cool the meat will be falling off the bone and much easier to handle. Remove the hock from the pan, scrape off the clinging peas, and put it on a chopping board. The skin will just lift off and then it is just a matter of flaking the meat into chunks and returning it to the pan, heat through and serve with black pepper.

This makes enough soup for at least 10 servings, so dividing it up and freezing it is also ideal and prolongs the pleasure of eating it to more than one occasion.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Estorick - flesh made real

Bruno Cassinari:  Butchered Calf, 1941, Oil on canvas, 87 x 63 cm, © Musei Civici Fiorentini – Raccolta Alberto Della Ragione.

Cassinari's Butchered Calf is one of the featured works that comes from the Alberto Della Ragione Collection, currently on show at the Estorick, London N1. Della Ragione collected and patronised Italian Modernist art contemporaneously. Initially for him, as the show brochure accedes, this style of painting was alien and challenging, an almost incomprehensible artistic vocabulary. In time he turned his attention to a group of burgeoning young artists assuring first refusal of their new work, with the promise of a monthly stipend.

The Butchered Calf, with its soft pink hues and the almost restful repose of the calf's head is more decorative than bloody or violent. The animal is still part of the carcass; the veal that will later grace the table is laid bare.

Butchery here is given a positive platform - a connection which unfortunately in the most part is now lost on those who buy their meat in a industrially processed homogenous form or the anorexic environment of the supermarket meat counter. By reconnecting with the source of our meat our concern for the practices of animal husbandry and as a consequence animal welfare would become a natural consumer choice as opposed to a casual afterthought.

Monday 14 February 2011

Monumental brownies

Each time I've made these chestnut brownies I've willfully ignored the recipe and followed my own course - as you can see they are truly moistly chocolatey and chestnutty.

Melt 140g of butter and 160g of 70% cocoa chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering hot water, when melted mix together thoroughly.

Meanwhile put 60g of plain flour, 80g of ground almonds, 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, a large pinch of salt, 150g of caster sugar, 50g of demerara sugar in a bowl and mix together.

When the butter and chocolate has melted leave to cool slightly, then add 2 tablespoons of brandy, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 4 eggs lightly beaten together. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients and finally stir in chopped cooked chestnuts (the vacuum packed ones are more than fine).

I use a pyrex dish (18x26cm) lined with baking parchment and cook in the middle of a preheated oven at 180 Celsius for 30 minutes turning the dish around (for even cooking) half way through. Leave to cool in the dish then slice into desired size and shape and store in an biscuit tin with layers of baking parchment.

The bare necessities

Supper seems to come late at the weekend and photographing food is always slightly problematic. So here are the raw ingredients for a late night speedy spaghettata!

Parsley, olive oil, spaghettini, anchovies, chillies, garlic and pine nuts
Put a pan of water on to boil,when boiling add a good dose of salt, drop in the pasta and stir.
Whilst cooking melt the anchovies with 2/3 (as hot as you like) crushed chillies in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, toast the pine nuts in the same pan then add the finely chopped up parsley and garlic, add more olive oil. Cook briefly, just to take the edge off the garlic but keep the parsley green. Add a ladle of the pasta cooking liquid. Drain the pasta add the parsley mix to it stir it in to cover the pasta, serve in warm bowls.

Friday 11 February 2011

Lemon suckers

Visual Athletics Club: Limoni Siciliani #1,2,3,4

Why so many negative metaphors surrounding lemons?
The car that always breaks down is - a bit of a lemon.
Our own sense of awkwardness as - feeling a bit of a lemon.
People with maybe a little too overdeveloped sense of self as - being lemon suckers.
The equating of sour with negative feelings is sociologically hard wired into our psyche but without sour how would we recognise sweet? Sweet and sour is the chiaroscuro of taste, definition needs contrast without contrast the world becomes a monotonous grey smudge.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Horseradish - isn't it time you had some?

I've popped this in the freezer so whenever I fell like some fresh horseradish all I have to do is take it out and grate it. I particularly like it mixed with Greek yoghurt and dolloped on my beetroot. Delicious with other equally robust flavours like smoked mackerel, trout or salmon.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Sicilian bread in abundance

Visual Athletics Club: Il mondo del pane

There are innumerable panifici in Sicily. Everyone you speak to has their own recommendation and usually some point of criticism of your preferred choice. But whichever panificio you choose you can be sure that the bread is baked in the morning and then again in the evening. 

The warm fresh bread comes in a gusseted paper bag. The examples shown here offer different signifiers  and with them subtly different associations - La Bonta del Pane - The Goodness of Bread,  Antichi Sapori - Traditional Flavours,  Il Mondo del Pane - The World of Bread. 

The graphic illustrations add another dimension. The chef kissing his fingers (or is he twiddling his moustache?) in delight, is something of an archetypal caricature. His relaxed and laid back self assured manner acting as a guarantee of the quality of his bread. 

Whilst the second image viewed through an oval window allows us a glimpse into a scenario offering variety, abundance and authenticity. Olfactory and gustatory stimuli are triggered - you can almost smell the wood fired oven and taste the bread.

The third example has a touch of the bucolic idyll but with a nod to technology.  This is not just a bread shop but the world of bread - the processes from the cultivation of wheat in the field, to the mechanised mixing machines, the manual kneading and forming of the bread and the scale of production are all depicted - not so much world on a global scale but bread is their world. Man and machine working in harmony to produce a veritable abundance of bread. 

Monday 7 February 2011

A 21st century food lexicon

food deserts – urban areas with no fresh food shops

food miles
- distance food has travelled

food security
– availability of food and one’s access to it

flexitarian – a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat

freeganism – eating free / wild food

glean - gather leftovers (grain after a harvest), collect gradually bit by bit, see Agnes Varda's  Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse  - The Gleaners and I

glocal  - describing the seamless integration between the local and global; the comprehensive connectedness produced by travel, business, and communications; willingness and ability to think globally and act locally

– from the Greek orth - (right and correct) + orexia (appetite) = right appetite. 1996 American physican Steven Bratman. Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food, uses it to describe people who have an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating

sitopia – from the Greek sitos – (food) + topos (place)
2008 Carolyn Steel in Hungry City, to describe an idealised food environment

locavore - a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food
locative food – “food that tells me where I am and where it’s from by its very name and nature [...] food that is not created by food product designers but by local people from local ingredients”, termed coined by food writer and curator Debra Solomon 2008.

organivore – a person who eats primarily organic food

novel food - a genetically modified or radically altered food, or a substance sold as a food that does not have a history of safe use as a food

placeless food
– food that comes from anywhere and everywhere
Nina-Marie Lister, Toronto, 2000

vegetannual – eating seasonal food. Barbara Kingsolver, ‘Stalking the Vegetannual: A roadmap to eating with the seasons,’ in Orion Magazine, April/May 2007

western diet – an American junk food diet

Sunday 6 February 2011

Rhubarb fresh but no fool

Credit to Rowley Leigh for inspiring yet another beautifully simple but delicious recipe. 
Slice 700g of rhubarbadd the zest and juice of a sanguinello orange, 100-140g caster sugar (according to taste) cook on a low heat until rhubarb has broken down, stir well. Drain off juice, leave to cool and then add 300g of Greek yoghurt and refrigerate.

Sicilian Inspiration

Sicilia in Bocca by Franca Colanno Romano
the chicken
the inspiration
the raw
the cooked

On Saturday at the Ginger Pig in Greensmiths, they had their usual array of beautifully dressed meat - I had my eye on a fresh free range chicken. Coming in at a little over two pounds in weight a roast chicken is a pleasure and a delight, but for a small family maybe a little too much to cope with, even in several sittings. I asked Tom could he take the bird, cut it in half down the breast bone, and then beat each half until its bones were broken! Tom and Adam (the amiable and engaged butchers) were curious as to the source of inspiration for my request.

I had recently come across the recipe in a Sicilian cookery book that had graced the shelves of my parents' house since the early 1970s - Sicila in Bocca, literally Sicily in the Mouth by Franca Colonna Romano. This is a rare book for not only is it graced with authentic Sicilian recipes but it also comes with beautiful illustrations and an English translation.

Some time ago after searching for the book on line I had the fortune to be contacted by Colonna Romano's son who was amazed that someone in London would know of a book that was published in Palermo in 1974. He was also looking for spare copies to give to his own daughters as an heirloom of his mother's work.

So my inspiration was more about transforming a whole chicken into a manageable half. The chicken was rubbed down with olive oil and a dried herb mixture of rosemary, sage, parsley, salt and pepper, and then popped in the roasting tin with 4 cloves of garlic, 1 onion, a handful of lardons, a glass of white wine and some fresh rosemary and sage - cooked at 200C. Delicious and with leftovers for sandwiches and the other half in the freezer awaiting orders.

Thursday 3 February 2011

An audience with Rene Redzepi

The Noma goodie bag

As sensual experiences go Rene Redzepi’s book launch, Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine at the Freemason’s Hall delivered on all levels. By choosing the Grand Temple with its sumptuous Art Deco interior and dazzling gold mosaics (built as a memorial to Freemasons who died in the Great War) the subliminal connotations of provenance, history, monumentalism and mathematics were cunningly installed in the collective psyche of the audience. 

Rene Redzepi within moments of taking the stage had aligned himself and the identity of his particular style of cuisine with modernist Danish architects and designers. Hans Christian Andersen and literature were the next unlikely bedfellows as he related a letter of disapproval with the story of ‘The Emperors New Clothes’. This could be seen as a preemptive strike on Redzepi’s part, as the notion of Nordic haute cuisine is still one that is a little hard to swallow. But as terroir became the defining word of the evening one was left feeling that the conviction of his evangelical sermonising could convert even the most sceptical.
Redzepi’s food is firmly planted in its locality – from the foraging of Nordic wild plants to the mise en scene reappropriation of the ingredients on the plate: the very straw that the free range chicken nested in to lay the egg that diners enjoyed; the seaweed and shells that provide a visual link with the oyster settled amongst them. 

Redzepi may have recognised that consumers from years of shopping in the sanitised environments that are supermarkets have little idea of where their food actually comes from, and in all honesty this is not an example most chefs would want to employ as the terroir of industrial food production would challenge even the most hardened fuelies.
Authenticity, locality, diversity, austerity, environment, sustainability from this comes a philosophy of “a narrow frame of work can produce new things” - necessity as the mother of invention. By foraging for his food within the environs of Nordic countries he creates a unique cuisine that cannot be replicated on a global scale only upon a local. 

As novelty is the guiding principle of fashion and consumption, his particular take is a paradox for his values see a return to simplicity and nature but at the same time remain highly esoteric in their reach. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – well maybe a little, for those who are fortunate enough to partake in this experiential cuisine can truly only be the ones to eulogise its splendour – the rest will have to be satisfied with gazing upon the images in his book or the memory of the aromas filling the Freemasons’ Hall and the charm of the man with a seemingly true love of Nordic food. 

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Enough to warm the cockles of your heart

Warm and tasty borlotti bean stew - delicious!

Food and Desire

Wassily Kandinsky 1911, Composition No IV, oil on canvas, 159.5 x 250.5cm
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfallen, Dusseldorf

'In no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything, because we deem it good, but on the other hand, we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it.' Baruch Spinoza circa 1670.

Desire demands distance, it is anticipatory. Desire has agency. Desire in all its inexplicableness is metaphorically meteorological. To neuroscientists desire is situated at the interface
between motivation, pleasure and reward. It involves an intentionality, which has a least four distinct stages: engagement, acceptance, continuation and subsequent return.  

Consider for a moment the pleasure in eating chocolate. How we single out chocolate over other food, the first bite, the continuing sensations of pleasure as we devour it and the knowledge of the return and the assurance of its continued capacity to satisfy appetite and incite pleasure and desire.
Desire and appetite have a co-dependency and the nature of their conjoined synaesthesic embrace is represented through the imagery of food. The historically hierarchical nature of our senses has vision and hearing firmly planted at the top and the more corporeal senses of taste, smell and touch lying below. 

However in the face of capitalism’s shift towards the technocracy of sensuality the cultivation of visual primacy has been subjugated. The hierarchy of the senses has been sublimated to mirror the ambiguities of good and evil, high and low, rational and irrational. They can be viewed as a necessary characteristic of the moral cultural value systems imposed by society to maintain the stability and power structures of the status quo: elements of social control.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Lunch reuniting past and present

Lunch with a friend from a distant past. 
Lunch with a friend who knew me when I was barely able to lunch alone. 
I have little appetite but lunch I will.